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Spain hoping to continue shedding the burden of history in Euro 2008

SoccerNews in European Championships, La Liga 26 Jun 2008

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Spain are hoping to continue undoing their underachievements of the past as they aim to get past Russia in Thursday's Euro 2008 semi-final.

The term 'perrenial underachievers' has become so synonymous with Spain that it seemed to have become a permanent prefix and the name Spain without out it looks naked.

But the talented Iberians went some way to shedding that unwanted tag in the quarter-finals with their nervy penalty shoot-out victory over Italy.

Not only was it their first ever victory over the Italians in a major tournament but it was also the first time they progressed beyond the last eight of a competition since 1984.

And midfield playmaker Xavi of Barcelona believes that this team is finally ready to put that hoodoo to bed once and for all.

“I am very happy as we have already taken a big step towards making history. But we still aren't there yet. We want to get to the final and win it – and this team is ready to do so,” he said.

“We are not going to lose our (playing) philosophy against the Russians. We will keep on playing an attacking game. Possession will be the key.”

Spain have of course already beaten Russia in this tournament and it will not be the first time that teams who meet in the group stages meet later on in the competition – although previously that could only happen in the final.

Four years ago Greece beat Portugal in the group stage and again in the final, as Germany did to the Czech Republic in 1996.

However, Xavi and Spain are not going to make the mistake of underestimating Russia.

“Now, they have more confidence and their self-esteem is on the rise, beating opponents who were favourites to do well in the Euros,” he added.

“The rival we will now face will not be the same one we faced in the opening game. Their morale is on the up.

“Against them we had a little luck in going 2-0 ahead and then we made use of the counter-attack.

“This one will now be more difficult, firstly, because it is a semi-final after all.

“We must get ourselves mentally ready for reaching the final and not just content ourselves with having finally got past the quarters.”

Of the four semi-finalists Spain are the only ones not to have lost a match and have been the most impressive team so far.

Their quick, incisive interplay around the box proved too much for Russia in the opening game although once Spain led 2-0 the game opened up and they could freely hit the Russians on the counter-attack.

Russia, though, were without their star striker Andrei Arshavin and he is hoping to make a big impression against the Spaniards as he tries to secure a move to their homeland.

The 27-year-old Zenit St Petersburg player has said that now is the right time for him to leave Russia and seek a lucrative move abroad, with Spain his preferred destination.

“I know that I have offers from England and Germany, but what I really want is to play in the Primera Liga,” he said.

“It's the championship that I have always followed, I like how football is played there. But for now, I have no offers from Spain.”

Victory for Russia and a European Championships final appearance would cap a fine season for Arshavin whose club side won the UEFA Cup in May.

Spain coach Luis Aragones is aware of the threat posed by quick forward but he tried to avoid singling him out for special attention.

“He's a good player but not the only danger for Russia who are a team who have progressed and have gained confidence,” said Aragones.

“We will have to play in a way which stops them playing and prevents them from counter attacking. We need to keep at them and give them less space.”

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This is really the test for Arshavin to prove that he can succeed against the strongest La Liga defenders. If he can shine tonight, his ticket for FC Barcelona, his favorite team, seems certain. I hope he can! smile

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